Japan Observations

There don’t seem to be any clothes’ dryers–laundry hangs everywhere. Including ours.

No tipping. It’s so nice not to have to think about it. Servers don’t depend on it. Meals are less expensive.

No napkins, really. Just hot cloths to wash hands before a meal. And no paper towels. I should have brought or bought a little washcloth at start of trip.

No doggie bags. There is takeout, but health laws forbid taking home leftovers (the dogs we’ve met all seem fine, though, and very cute).

It’s illegal to hail a taxi. Go to taxi stand.

Everything works! Vending machines do not jam up and eat your money. When you press the button, the train door WILL open. This is not the NYC of my childhood. (Of course not, but I have habits and reactions based on that.)


shadowed graveyard
stones of strangers
a foreign language

after the rain
old man on a bicycle
pedals by

I sit writing
by the shrine—perplex
the neighbors

I traveled
my whole life, just to enjoy

twisted leafless trees—
this slick moss
almost trips me up

politics blares
from the passing van,
clumps of narcissus

Photographs by Isabel Winson-Sagan

On The Return Trip from Hiroshima: Poem by Miriam Sagan

On The Return Trip from Hiroshima

local train–
nine small school children
in matching yellow hats—
two bossy girls
a soon to be handsome devil of a boy,
their sleepy friend,
and two boys both chewing
on the same stuffed crab toy,
while the littlest ones
sleep against the teachers

they scuffle
play some clapping games
and snooze

two teachers—
one gray haired older woman
and one young
with just a strand of silver—
each year the children
age only a grade

while we
grow older

Isabel Winson-Sagan on Doing Suminagashi in Japan

I love doing sumi here. In the states, most people have no idea what suminagashi is, and if they do it’s usually along the lines of “Oh sure, my kid did that one day in kindergarten.” While I love that suminagashi is such an easy and accessible art form, it’s a little like telling a painter that your kid enjoys finger painting…Here, everyone actually knows what it is! And they’re at least polite enough to comment on the difficulty involved.

Kimonos, Kimchi, and Yayoi Musama

An unfamiliar city has its mystery. Turn the corner and we’re suddenly on a chic retail street. At the kimono store I’m overcome with a kind of crazed greed that is almost a fugue state. This open jacket in two colors of woven silk, a kind of light brocade, is only…two weeks of my pension. I rub the material between my fingers, embarrassingly orgasmic. I’ve never spent this much money on anything that wasn’t four radial tires or a roof patch. But for one blind moment of desire I consider it. Three pretty young women in gorgeous kimonos politely ignore me. They know I won’t buy, or even pretend to.
A block down a small gallery catches my eye. What are those gorgeous prints? Turns out to be…Yayoi Musama, the artist who creates the infinity rooms and has super star status. “Boy, do I have a good eye” I announce to anyone who will listen, and to myself. But it is kind of embarrassing, too, as if I’d just realized Picasso was one heck of a painter.
Just a stone’s throw from the air bnb—past the construction site where they are noisily hitting bedrock and around the graveyard with its walls to separate the living from the dead—is a tempinyaki restaurant. We get seated at the bar where we can watch the chefs stir fry on the hot metal table before us. This isn’t a fancy Japanese restaurant in Manhattan, all beef and showmanship, it’s down-home and informal. I eat kimchi and oysters in egg and soba. It’s beyond delicious.
We’re watching “Spirited Away” which is obviously perfect for an after dinner movie sitting on comfy futons on tatamis in the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Where the spirit world is so so close…with its chaos and its charm.
I do love beauty, maybe I love it more than anything. Neglected or unloved objects drove me mad as a child—they broke my heart the way a hurt animal might. My own house may be dusty and a bit cluttered, funky at the edges, and in need of some upgrades—but I love every inch, every potted plant, every colorful rug. Each thing has a story—I knew the artist, I got it at auction, the author gave it to me, my friend brought it back from Mexico, the painter made it for the baby…
There are limits to my budget. And I must limit my own greed. What I don’t need to limit is my love and admiration for the imagination, and its fruit.